With the 2018 season now over, Pro Football Focus is already knee-deep in its retrospective process, beginning with a rundown of their top 101 players from the past season. The site is putting the list together in installments, and as of yesterday evening completed it through the bottom 51 entries.
Among those 51 players were two members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, both of them Pro Bowlers in the 2018 season. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster checked in at 65 for the first time in his two-year career, while veteran defensive lineman Cameron Heyward was recognized at number 57 in the list, his second appearance overall.
“Smith-Schuster has become one of the premier personalities and brands in the league just two years into his career”, the wide receivers’ entry in the list reads. “He finished the 2018 season with an overall grade of 81.8 which ranked 14th among all qualifying wide receivers, and his 2.02 yards per route run was good for 15th”.
In the more traditional statistics, he caught 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. He finished ahead of Antonio Brown on the team in both statistics, though he had fewer than half his veteran teammate’s touchdowns even though he participated in one more game.
As for Heyward, he matched one Pro Bowl season for another, posting eight sacks, three passes defensed, a forced fumble, and 51 tackles while playing in every game. The eight sacks are the second-most in his career behind only the 12 that he had a season ago.
“Heyward recorded an overall grade of 84.9 this year, the 16th-best mark among interior defenders and his second consecutive grade of 80.0 or higher”, the article reads on the lineman. “As usual, he was a force as a pass rusher and generated 59 total pressures on the year, the fifth-most among players at the position”.
With 50 more spots to go, there is a possibility that we see another Steeler or two make the list, though I’m not sure we are guaranteed to see any more than those already named, based on PFF’s grading. Smith-Schuster was graded higher than Brown, for example, and they emphasize that only 2018 play was considered.
The Steelers sent three offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl, including Alejandro Villanueva, the one they graded the highest, and David DeCastro, who was one of their highest graded overall a season ago. Of course Brown could make an appearance.
One player I don’t think we will see is Ben Roethlisberger. Even though he threw for over 5000 yards and set a new franchise record with 34 touchdown passes, he is being overlooked for such accolades all across the board, not just from PFF.